College Students: Saving on Food Costs, Not Quality

Content by: NCES, Inc.

If you’re like the typical college student, food costs are an expensive part of a very tight budget. With a little thought, plus some savvy-shopping know-how, you can cut food costs, but maintain a quality diet. Here are some ways to save money at the grocery store.

College Students:  Saving on Food Costs, Not Quality


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There are best practices in helping control your food budget. Planning is critical when getting ready to grocery shop. Take the time to inventory and think about the foods that you need for the next week.

QUICK TIP! DON’T SHOP WHEN YOU ARE HUNGRY, as your grocery bill can go up as much as 17%!

Allow plenty of time, and don't rush through the store. Compare information to compare different brands and sizes for the best buy. Most grocery stores have a label on the shelf detailing the cost per ounce or per container.

Convenience foods are the MOST expensive part of your grocery bill. Consider convenience over cost, quality over convenience. Consider fresh fruit or vegetables over pre-packaged and processed foods. Choose to buy only the most necessary convenience foods.

When choosing fresh, consider the time of year. Tailor your purchases to seasonal produce. For example, buy peaches, strawberries, corn, tomatoes, and melons in the summer.

In packaged foods, store brands are usually significantly cheaper and most are just as tasty and similar in quality as the national brands. Look for coupons, although often not offered on Store Brands. Be sure to check the price of another brand of the same item. Many times it is still cheaper than if you used the coupon.

Container size matters a lot! For example, 32 oz. container of vanilla yogurt is cheaper per ounce than the 6 oz. size, unless of course is spoils before you eat it all. If you tend to carry the yogurt onto campus, and you don’t feel like putting it in single serving containers, then the smaller serving sizes are more practical.

Use canned beans as a source of protein instead of chicken or other meats. Beans are much cheaper than meat and packed with nutrition. Try a bean burrito lunch instead of the chicken version.

Snack foods are one of the most expensive items on your shopping list. Try making your own, suchas a healthy trail mix with cereal, pretzels, and raisins or another dried fruit.

Quick Tips!
1. Read cost/item labels on stores shelves.
2. Prepare as many foods from scratch as possible.
3. Purchase larger quantities of food when cheaper and practical.
4. Buy fresh fruits in season.
5. Choose store brands of foods, when possible.
6. Avoid eating from the deli or student union.

Next Steps:
1. Plan your day.
2. Have containers that fit in your backpack.
3. Make your own snacks.
4. Take fresh, balanced meals with you.

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